There are many reasons why unconscious bias needs to be discussed and addressed within the IT industry. One of those is that there will be more STEM jobs in the future, and if fewer women study those subjects and work in that industry now, they are even futher likely to be impacted.
And there’s plenty of evidence about why gender diversity is so important, and companies with greater gender diversity at the board level perform better and have better reputations.
But 70% of women who graduate with a STEM degree do not stay in STEM post 5 years. One of the reasons for that is that we need to feel like we belong. I’ve experienced folks from Catalyst who talk about the importance of belonging. In fact, they have a rather handy page on why diversity and inclusion matter, with links to relevant research.
And we *all* have a role to play in inequality. Conscious bias clearly does still exist, and is dangerous. But unconscious bias goes on largely unnoticed and is more likely experienced in a professional environment with less obvious complaint mechanisms than conscious bias.
Many folks talk about ‘the management team’ undergoing mandatory training for this, but we all need it, and need to refresh it, and constantly keep it in mind.
On 12th February, Talat Yaqoob, Director of Equate Scotland, spoke at a BCSWomen event I ran with the BCS Tayside and Fife branch on this very subject, and she highlighted 3 unconscious biases I thought I’d share.
One is in group bias, where we favour in our image. We see like for like, and all too regularly asses likeability over competence. I saw it in practice recently when recruiting new people to a team. Comments were made about the ability of our new members to gel with us, and be able to cope with the style of existing members who were rather happy to share their opinions, ideas, worries, concerns. But rather it should be for the existing members to ensure the skills and experience that was lacking were sought for first, and the responsiblity of those existing members to ensure that everyone had a say. There’s something about extroverts being preferred that means we end up without diversity in that characteristic!
The second was confirmation bias, when we hear what we want to hear. Sadly I didn’t hear an example, but I suspect many women suffer from this one. Say there is one woman on a team, a board, in an org, and she fails (you know, sometimes it happens!) Far too many folks think therefore if she fails then all women will fail and therefore they shouldn’t be on boards, in certain positions, etc., etc.
The one that made me chuckle was unconscious bias bias! This is where someone thinks that as they are an open-minded, logical person they don’t have any unconscious bias! Or they think that because they have had unconscous bias training they are no longer biased! But we all have them. Talat covers this sort of subject all the time, and she told us a story (that I don’t feel at liberty to share here) of an example of her unconscious bias too.
Of course, bias is not just about gender either…
Something else to be aware of is macro and micro aggressions. Macro aggression can be seen in the gender pay gap, the lack of women in STEM, the lack of men in vet medicine…
Micro agression can be seen as ‘death by a thousand cuts’, where you’re just not happy with an organisation, team, etc., but can’t necessarily put it down to one obvious thing. Describing an event as “black tie” can even be thought of as a micro-aggression, especially when it’s an event for women; why aren’t we describing what women should wear?
Another common micro aggression is women not being heard by men. Take Obama’s 2009 administration for example. Two thirds of the top staffers were men, and the women’s voices were just not being heard. So the women did something called ‘amplification’. They went to meetings in at least twos, and every time a woman had a good idea other women in the room would positively reinforce it, perhaps by stating it was a good idea and saying “tell us more”.
So, what can we all do? Challenge our own thinking. All the time. And slow down decision making.
Do get trained. More than once. A training session allows for self reflection in a space we don’t often give ourselves.
Pick people up on their unconscious bias, point it out. Don’t be mean, but don’t hold back either.